Tumblr to Prohibit Content that Glorifies Self-Harm

Tumblr to Prohibit Content that Glorifies Self-Harm

Blog network seeks to diminish communities that support self-destructive behavior


Well, this is interesting. The multimedia micro-blogging platform so beloved by the arty, the nerdy, and the strange has taken up a new stance on the type of content it will allow to be published on its blogs. Tumblr users who post content that actively promotes self-harm, such as eating disorders or self-injury, will now see their blogs taken down by staff.

The pro-anorexia community is one that, sadly, thrives on the internet. People who suffer from the eating disorder communicate with one another online to share tips and encourage each other's continued weight loss. You can find similar communities for most types of self-destruction if you care to look. There are even message boards dedicated to discussing suicide methods--some of which are actually then carried out by users.

Because this sort of activity harms only the people who willingly participate in it, it's not often banned from online communities. It's not the same as hate speech or harassment; the only victims are willing victims. Tumblr found itself home to a startling number of self-harm blogs, yet found that nothing in its content policies prohibited such behavior. So the platform's staff decided to take a stand.

These sorts of blogs may only feature self-inflicted violence, but they're still violent. Even if you're convincing willing participants to starve themselves, you're still, however indirectly, harming them. If they've become more likely to do serious damage to themselves because of something you've posted, you are at least partially to blame. And so Tumblr did what it thought was necessary to protect its users. It prohibited posts that glorified self-destruction.

It does seem as though Tumblr staff will need to do a lot of work to judge posts on a case-by-case basis. After all, what is the line between a post describing a personal struggle with self-harm and a post glorifying self-harm? There's surely some overlap there; how do you make that call? How direct does the encouragement need to be? Is encouraging by example enough? It's a touchy policy that could hurt both the perpetrators of glorified self-harm and their victims if not enacted carefully. 

Tumblr has also made sure to display a note encouraging users to seek help whenever they search the website's tags for words connoting self-destructive behaviors. Tags like anorexia and bulimia will now bring up the phone number of an eating disorder hotline. It's touches like this that remind me how Tumblr really feels the most like a community out of all the major content outlets on the web. They do like to show they care. Hopefully these new policies start to make a difference in the lives of their users.